by Dr. Gregory Brown
Restless legs syndrome – also known as RLS – is manifested by an almost uncontrollable urge to move the legs. A person’s legs become uncomfortable when sitting or lying down. Sufferers often describe a crawly, tingly or burning feeling in the legs that keeps coming back, especially in bed at night while trying to sleep.
There are several natural methods a person can implement to deal with the problem of restless legs. Most of these RLS treatments are relatively easy for people to incorporate into their daily lives. Diet and lifestyle changes can be effective methods to treat restless legs.
To start with, you should adopt a regular sleeping schedule to help control restless legs. By going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, you are training your body clock to expect the same routine day after day.
Getting some sort of moderate exercise on a regular basis is also recommended. Make an appointment with your doctor before you begin to make sure you don’t have any health problems that would prevent you from starting an exercise program.
Bicycling or walking are good ways to get started with exercise. Try to do something that will get your heart pumping and your lungs working – in other words, an aerobic workout that will be good for your cardiovascular system.
One lifestyle habit that may contribute to restless legs is the habit of remaining in one position for too long during the day. Try changing your sitting position several times a day when reading or watching TV so that your blood will circulate properly.
Caffeine is also thought to contribute to RLS and can often make this sleep disorder symptom worse. By reducing the amount of caffeine you consume daily – especially in the afternoon and evening – you should be able to fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply.
Smoking is another factor that can contribute to restless leg syndrome. Smoking contributes to heart and lung problems, and also the risk of hypertension. By affecting the body’s circulation, smoking can cause swelling in the legs.
You should also try stretching in the evening before you go to bed and in the morning when you get up. By keeping the body flexible, restless legs can be mitigated and you may find that you sleep better at night.
There are a variety of medications available to help with restless legs syndrome, but unfortunately most have side effects that may deter people from taking them. These side effects can include constant drowsiness or a major change in one’s sleep cycle.
For example, sleep medications that also serve as muscle relaxants may ease the symptoms of restless legs syndrome and help you sleep better at night. However, these medications are not a cure and may also lead to daytime drowsiness. Melatonin for sleep (rather than melatonin for weight loss), may also be helpful.
Prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, Codeine and Oxycodone may provide relief from RLS in severe cases that have not responded to milder treatments. Keep in mind that prescription painkillers can be addictive and may have side effects including nausea, dizziness, and constipation.
Anti-seizure medicines like Tegretol, Neurontin, and Epitol have been proven effective for daytime symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Side effects can include daytime dizziness and drowsiness.
The good news is that once the problem is understood, most individuals can deal with restless legs on their own. Changing one’s behavior and lifestyle are natural ways to combat the problem without resorting to sleeping medications.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no known cause for restless legs syndrome. Nevertheless, it never hurts to consult with a doctor or sleep specialist in order to better cope with RLS so that a restful night’s sleep can be achieved.
Changes in lifestyle like a regular sleep schedules along with relaxation techniques and moderate exercise usually help. Natural sleep aids like melatonin, or stronger prescription medications may also be given to moderate the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome if these natural methods fail.
(published January 6, 2011)